Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Greg Jordan

April 18, 2013

Career of covering crashes provides first-hand look at incredible scenes

— — One benefit of working in the news business is being able to see the unbelievable first. While other people are diverted away from crime scenes, reporters and photographers often get to walk right in and take a look. That’s a good thing, because we often get to see the incredible with our own eyes.

A good is example is a recent crash on Interstate 81 in Wythe County. Editor Samantha Perry heard that a tractor-trailer hauling 50,000 pounds of strawberries had overturned. She urged photographer Eric DiNovo to go there since it promised to be a noteworthy scene.

Well, it turned out to be miraculous. Eric sent the newsroom some photos of a tractor-trailer lying on top of what we first thought was a sedan; instead, it turned out to be a pick-up truck. We later found out that the pick-up’s driver had only minor injuries. The look of that crash made us expect a fatality.

I’ve been on the scene of many fatal crashes, but I’ve also seen those cases that make you believe in guardian angels. One such case happened years ago on Lorton Lick Road near Bluewell.

The newsroom police scanner blared a call about a two-vehicle crash, so I climbed into my car and headed for the scene. After frustrating minutes of waiting in stalled traffic and searching for a parking space, I reached the site. One smashed car was sitting on the road. Another one had come to rest in a front yard. My first thought was “fatality.”

I found a state trooper and asked him about the people in both vehicles. He indicated the wreckage in the yard and pointed out a couple of teenage boys standing nearby. They were the truck’s passenger and driver. Except for some cuts and bruises, they were unhurt and very much alive.

I later learned that they were speeding down the road toward Montcalm High School when a woman in another car pulled out in front of them. The vehicles collided.

The boys were literally flipped out of their truck. They landed in the lawn and survived. I don’t believe the other driver was seriously hurt, either. A spare tire off one vehicle or the other was shot into the air. It landed inside a parked Jeep. I couldn’t believe it; all that mangled wreckage, yet nobody was killed.

Another case was similar to the strawberry tractor-trailer crash. This one involved a tractor-trailer hauling 10,000 frozen pizzas on Interstate 77.

I arrived on the scene and, again, expected to hear the word “fatality.” The trailer had been torn apart. Boxes of frozen pizza were lying everywhere, and you could literally see through the wreckage. To illustrate this point, I persuaded a firefighter to look through one of the trailer’s gaping holes. The driver’s cab was almost intact, and the driver escaped serious injury.

Years later when I decided to try the teaching profession, I used this incident to inspire a writing lesson. I was doing some student teaching at Bluefield Middle School, and I had to draft and present my own lesson. Recalling the great pizza crash, I decided to teach the kids how to write a news story.

Naturally, I told them about asking vital questions such as why, what, when, where and how. Then I pretended to be a state trooper and held a news conference about the crash. Naturally, the fact it involved thousands of frozen pizzas fascinated the kids. The teacher told me later that her students talked about that lesson for weeks. If only my other lesson plans had worked out so well.

I think the great lumber wreck would have made a good lesson plan, too. This happened on Interstate 77 near Camp Creek. A tractor-trailer hauling a load of boards took a curve a little too fast and overturned. I arrived on the scene and soon learned that the driver was OK despite the mess. The timber had trapped him inside the cab.

It took about an hour for first responders to clear the timber away so he could crawl out. One detective at the scene laughed and said that he wished he had his pick-up truck with him; he was building a porch.

Interesting crashes that don’t include fatalities or serious injuries gives both reporters and copy editors a chance to indulge in word play. A good example is the time when a tractor-trailer loaded with several tons of apples overturned at the foot of the old Easley Bridge in Bluefield. The headline the next day was “Apple Turnover.”

(On the day of the strawberry crash — which tied up traffic on I-81 — Lifestyles Editor Jamie Parsell was the first to quip, “traffic jam.”)

I’ll likely be going to other crashes in the future, and I hope they won’t include fatalities. Like many drivers, I’ve had my own close calls, so I can sympathize with those motorists who are not as lucky. A moment’s inattention or just some bad luck can result in a life-changing moment.

Oh, except for the Lorton Lick case, those crashes with seemingly miraculous survivals involved seat belts. And the fatalities often feature a lack of seat belt use. Even that one factor means the difference between usual and tragic.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.

 

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